On Nov. 11 the Michigan State Spartans and North Carolina Tar Heels opened the men’s college basketball season in San Diego. This game, though, was different. It was special and held far more meaning than the typical regular season or even postseason game for that matter.
Nov. 11 was Veteran’s Day. It’s a day to honor the service men and women of the United States that risk their lives for the freedoms we share every day, in wartime and peacetime.
The game between MSU and UNC was held on the Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. A crowd of more than 8,000, including President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watched the Tar Heels defeat the Spartans 67-55 on a beautiful Southern California evening.
Also in the crowd was Michigan State graduate and Montcalm County resident Gordon Stauffer. Stauffer was one of a select few able to attend the historic event.
“It was the event of a lifetime,” Stauffer said. “I’ll do other Final Fours or Big Ten tournaments, but this is the only time I’ll ever be able to do this event.”
Each school received 750 tickets for the event. Only 500 tickets from Michigan State were open to non administration personnel. Recipients were selected by a lottery.
“I found myself to be very fortunate to have been among the 500 to actually get the call,” Satuffer said. “We had to submit security information 60 days in advance to be cleared by the Secret Service.”
Stauffer arrived two days before the game and enjoyed a few game related activities including a trip to the San Diego Air & Space Museum.
“That is a fantastic facility,” Stauffer said. “Second only in my opinion to the Smithsonian in Washington. It was a neat place to visit.”
As expected security the day of the event was extremely tight. Stauffer said the lines moved well, but there were several check points.
“We couldn’t pick up our tickets until the morning of the game. They were given to you at the last minute purposely,” he said. “Your photo ID had to have the exact spelling on the ticket, the number had to match your ID and there were three different check points to get on the base.”
The crowd was intermixed with Michigan State fans, North Carolina fans and members from various branches of the military. Stauffer said the military members in attendance appreciated the support.
“They all were so appreciative of the event, us coming and supporting the Wounded Warrior program,” he said. “Just the idea of it. The significance of the date and location was rather obvious to everyone.”
It wasn’t about winning and losing, but something much more.
“The game itself was not the best game you’ve ever seen,” Stauffer said. “The first game of the year, the conditions, the nervousness with the Commander in Chief watching. The atmosphere was nothing like I’ve ever seen.
“It’s a whole different atmosphere with the appreciation of it. It’s the location, the event and the best team on that ship is team U.S.A No. 1. That’s our service people.”
The game was an experience of a lifetime for players, fans and all who attended. The game is set to be duplicated next year. The Carrier Classic will pit the Connecticut Huskies against the Arizona Wildcats on a expected date of Nov. 9.
USS Carl Vinson
Launched: March 15, 1980
Commissioned: March 13, 1982
Propulsion: Nuclear (two reactors)
Total cost: $3.8 billion
Length: 1,092 feet
Width: 252 feet
Speed: 30+ knots
Weight: 95,000 tons
Capacity: Approximately 4,500